The Ross Bay Cemetery is frequently mentioned on tours around Victoria as big buses and double-deckers cruise past the historic resting place that sits beside the ocean. It wasn’t until this past weekend that I had the chance to get out of my vehicle and take a frosty walk around to pay my respects to some of BC’s most notable historic figures and pioneers.
Damp moss topped with leaves crunched underfoot as Keira and I explored for almost two hours. Some tombstones were illegible due to erosion while other graves were marked with wooden crosses or masterful monuments. Moss grew out of stone etchings, revealing names that would have otherwise disappeared. Flowers and candles lay near the sites of departed loved ones while neighbours strolled through with their children or on their bikes that chilled Sunday morning.
Pioneers, HBC notables, Navy personnel, artists, magnates, First Nations and early immigrants rest in peace in various plots, separated by paved pathways. I downloaded a map from the Ross Bay website as a guide so that I could find some of those I have researched or profiled in my history pieces. However, we simply spent most of our time considerately meandering around the markers in silence.
Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken was a surgeon with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Helmcken Street in Vancouver is named after him.
Albert Norton Richards was the second Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia from 1876 to 1881. Richards Street in Vancouver is named after him.
Robert Dunsmuir was a coal magnate on Vancouver Island. His son, James Dunsmuir, was also a Premier of British Columbia. You can learn more about the Dunsmuir family by visiting Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria. Dunsmuir Street in Vancouver is named after him.
Sir James Douglas is known as the “Father of British Columbia”. Presiding over all Hudson’s Bay Company territories West of the Rockies, Douglas was Governor of the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Douglas Street in Victoria is named after him.
John Robson was Premier of British Columbia from 1889-1892. Robson Street in Vancouver is named after him.
William “Billy” Barker was a pioneer in the Cariboo and namesake of Barkerville.
Emily Carr is a world-famous BC artist who was also an author and lover of nature. Pens, pencils, bits of cloth and paintbrushes have been left at her gravestone by visitors so we offered up a tribute as well.
Carr was recently immortalized in a statue in front of Victoria’s Fairmont Empress Hotel and the Emily Carr University of Art & Design is named after her. Written on stone is a poem by Emily Carr, installed by the Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria.
“Dear Mother Earth, I have always specifically belonged to you. I have loved from babyhood to roll upon you, to lie with my face pressed right down onto you in my sorrows. I love the look of you and the smell of you and the feel of you. When I die, I should like to be in you, uncoffined, unshrouded, the petals of flowers against my flesh and you covering me up.”
Although BC’s history lives on all around us, it can be found in abundance within this single place in our Province’s capital. Each name tells a story and through each namesake, their pioneering legacy lives on.
Read Keira’s Island Profile of the Ross Bay Cemetery.